By Jenn Watt
Published June 27 2017
Donna Gagnon is a special kind of detective. In her business We Go Back she tracks down people’s ancestors using all sorts of tools. There’s the omnipresent Google of course and Ancestry.ca but also archives at York University and the scrapbooks compiled at the Minden Hills Cultural Centre.
And then there are local cemeteries.
“I love to walk through cemeteries. I just look to see who’s buried there” she said.
In a year focused on the history of Dysart et al and Canada’s 150th attention has shifted to examining the area’s past. Much of that can be found by visiting graves reading headstones and using some basic detective skills.
Gagnon and her husband Doug Pugh used to run “ghost walks” throughout the county taking participants on a walking historical tour. While they’re no longer doing those it was through planning the tours that some of the local characters came to the fore.
“Through the ghost walks I got extremely interested in some of the characters that were being talked about” Gagnon said.
Michael Fay and Fay Martin started the walks and did some of the initial footwork. Since then Gagnon has been able to expand on the known stories.
One of the walks We Go Back still does during Hike Haliburton is at the Gelert cemetery called Gelert: Not So Little Not So Irish. Gelert was once known as Little Ireland Gagnon explained as well as Minden Station because of the railway which came through at the time.
“I’m very interested in the social history or the community history of an area” she said.
By wandering the cemetery finding interesting stones and researching the people who once lived here Gagnon has been able to learn more about the Highlands.
She has a blog in which she compiles a lot of the information she finds: wegoback.wordpress.com.
One of the settlers in the area was named Alice Theresa (Tirzah) Parrington Hoyle (1840-1912) who is buried at the Gelert cemetery.
Hoyle was responsible for an astonishing number of people. After her husband Richard Sharples died in 1860 Hoyle was left with five children to take care of.
“On the 1871 England census her occupation was listed as ‘farmer of 28 acres employing one man’” writes Gagnon of Hoyle. She was also caring for her aunt who was listed as an invalid.
She married a widower with five of his own children Thomas Hoyle and together moved to Gelert in 1872. They had five more children together.
“The connection between their two families became even more solidified when Tirzah’s daughter Annie Sharples married Thomas Hoyle’s son John Hoyle on May 21 1886 in Snowdon Township” she wrote.
Another headstone in Gelert that caught the eye of Pugh and Gagnon was that of Ashton Moore (1896-1918).
“There was a stone for him in Gelert cemetery” Gagnon said “He did not die in Canada.”
Moore was a soldier in the First World War who perished in France.
“I did a blog post about Ashton Moore … I didn’t know at that point that he wasn’t physically buried there. I got a comment from a couple in France whose daughter had died in a plane crash a few years previously. She’s buried in a communal cemetery in France. Right near her grave is the grave of Ashton Moore. He’s the only Canadian soldier buried in that communal cemetery” she said.
The family was putting flowers on Moore’s grave and wondered about the soldier’s past. They started searching his name online and found her post. Gagnon connected with the couple who sent her photos of Moore’s grave.
Doing a little detective work is something anyone can do the researcher said. Websites such as FamilySearch.org and FindAGrave.com can be of help. The local libraries have access to Ancestry.ca and there’s a surprising amount to be found just by googling people’s names.
To read more of Gagnon’s work check out WeGoBack.wordpress.com.